Review | A Philosophy of Ruin

A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi

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Oscar Boatwright’s life is crashing in slow motion.

He’s received news his mother died on a flight home from Hawaii.  His father arrives at his home, stunned and still numb.

To make matters worse, Oscar learns his mother’s depression had overwhelmed her and led his parents to spend tens of thousands of dollars on seminars with self-help guru Paul St. Germaine.

Now Oscar’s dad has not only lost his life savings but the wife he longed to save from deep depression …and he still owes thousands to St. Germaine.

Oscar’s extremely modest income as a philosophy professor barely covers his expenses and student loan debt so he’s hopeful his wealthy sister will be able to help their dad in his dire financial situation.  It isn’t long before his sister confides she and her husband are separating and their finances haven’t been great since the market turned.

Just when life seems it can’t possibly get any worse, Oscar has a drunken one night stand with a woman he meets in a bar … and finds her sitting in his class the next day.
Dawn isn’t just his student, she’s also a drug dealer.  While Oscar attempts to remove himself from the awkward situation, he’s drawn further into Dawn’s world, and she knows some of his story.  Enough to know Oscar won’t say no to helping with a large drug run, both out of fear she’ll blackmail him and because he can’t possibly turn down $30,000 in his current situation.

Numb from his recent loss, disillusioned by the past, and uncertain of his future, Oscar sets out with a simple plan: drive a borrowed Land Rover to a GPS programmed location several hours away, pick up a backpack, and return to campus.  That’s it.

His simple plan takes a dramatic turn when Oscar believes he’s being followed by a black truck. What follows is an abrupt and terrifying turn into chaos.

A Philosophy of Ruin begins with a man struggling to come to terms with his mother’s mental illness and sudden death and evolves into the story of a man trying to escape a dangerous drug run.
Mancusi manages to deliver this novel in a controlled way though the events are a dramatic and sudden spiral.  I could compare the plot and delivery to the television show Breaking Bad which has a similar tone and theme.
The ending was abrupt and lacking for me personally but this was still an overall fantastic novel!

Thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  A Philosophy of Ruin is scheduled for release on June 18, 2019.

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Review | The Lady from the Black Lagoon

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

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I had never heard the name Milicent Patrick until last year when this book began to appear on lists for upcoming releases.  I was immediately intrigued by the idea that a woman in 1950’s Hollywood was responsible for creating the legendary monster (often called Gill Man) in Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is part biography and part detective story, covering the life of Milicent Patrick as well as Mallory O’Meara’s journey to unearth clues about Patrick’s film legacy.

O’Meara is up front about the fact that there isn’t a lot of solid proof of Patrick’s contibutions to special effects in film since most artists/designers were not credited during that era.

With little to go on, O’Meara did an impressive amount of research to piece together Patrick’s fascinating life:  she grew up near the grounds of “Hearst Castle” (her father was an architect for William Randolph Hearst’s grand home in San Simeon), her early romantic life was filled with tragedy, and she became one of Walt Disney’s first female animators.

Milicent eventually began working in the makeup department at Universal Studios, led by Bud Westmore.  She worked on several of their horror movies and in an unusual publicity move, Universal sent her on a promotional tour for the upcoming release of Creature from the Black Lagoon to discuss the creature and its design. She was asked to credit only Bud Westmore for its creation and she agreed. People became enamored with Milicent; she had charm and an unusual profession that they were fascinated by.
When Milicent returned to California, she was shocked to find she’d been fired by Bud Westmore.  It appeared that Bud was unhappy Universal sent Milicent on a press tour and that his name was being ignored while she was in the spotlight.  With Westmore against Milicent, she’d never work in special effects again.

Milicent Patrick was estranged from most of her family, didn’t have children, and most of her friends had also passed on by the time O’Meara began research for her book.  These factors made it extremely tough to put together a complete biography so a lot of the text is pure speculation.
Some readers may be uncomfortable with few solid facts, gaps in time, and speculation on events and emotions.

I enjoyed this book as it gave a voice to both Milicent Patrick and Mallory O’Meara.  O’Meara’s writing is conversational, witty, and extremely inviting.  She tells us when and why she became interested in Milicent Patrick and the importance of Patrick’s legacy.

This isn’t a traditional biography; it also contains a memoir with the author’s personal history and opinions and a look at the history of misogyny in the film industry.

O’Meara was inspired by Milicent Patrick’s professional accomplishments which are a rarity in the film industry, especially in the 1950’s.  She researched Patrick in order to get a better understanding of her role model, to acknowledge the accomplishments Hollywood didn’t credit, and to inspire females everywhere.

O’Meara’s last line sums up her journey perfectly:

“Milicent Patrick’s legacy isn’t just a body of influential work. It’s also an invitation.”

The Lady from the Black Lagoon covers several genres:  film/history, feminism, non-fiction, biography, memoir, and humor (O’Meara’s footnotes and occasional non-chalant use of the word ‘motherfucker’ made me smile).

Thanks to Hanover Square Press for sending me an advanced readers copy and Goodreads for hosting the ARC giveaway!

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick will be released on March 5, 2019*.

(I love the release date is March 5th because that’s also the day in 1954 that Creature from the Black Lagoon was released!)

Review | The Boy at the Keyhole

The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

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Nine-year-old Samuel Clay lives with the family’s housekeeper, Ruth, on a deteriorating English estate.  His father has died and his mother has traveled to America to secure capital for their failing business.

It’s been over five months since Samuel has spoken to his mother; he receives random postcards from her and marks her locations in an atlas in the study.  He misses her terribly and is upset she left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.

Samuel’s imagination runs wild and all it takes is a few comments from his best friend to make him question if his mother really left the country at all.  Samuel begins to think Ruth had something to do with his mother’s disappearance, why else would she be gone for so long?

Ruth takes care of the home and Samuel with the little money available but she is cold detached and refuses to put up with any nonsense.  Normal daily routines soon fill with the unease of a domestic thriller as readers wonder if Ruth is hiding something.

Samuel’s investigation sends him searching the cellar and spying in to locked rooms while Ruth grows more furious by the day at all the questions and sneaking around.  The psychological show down between Samuel and Ruth is a slow burn, and I can definitely see the comparisons to Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier as a simple story of a boy yearning for his mother and dealing with the loss of his father turns in to an unsettling tale of possible murder.

I loved that a nine-year-old’s imagination allows the reader to find the jump from “mother abroad for business” to “murdered by the housekeeper” completely plausible.  A child can turn anything into a mystery and put everyone under suspicion.  There were moments when I felt Ruth was a total villain and others where I saw an adult making hard choices for a family in the mother’s absence.

While I know some readers will feel this story falls flat because it lacks action, many will enjoy the psychological dance between truth and perception.  I’m not honestly sure what ending I expected or even wanted, but it is chilling!

Thanks to Hanover Square Press and Edelweiss for a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Boy at the Keyhole is scheduled for release on September 4, 2018.